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Patterns of sea otter haul-out behavior of California tidal estuary in relation to environmental variables

Maldini, D., Scoles, R., Eby, R. and Rankin, R.W. (2012) Patterns of sea otter haul-out behavior of California tidal estuary in relation to environmental variables. Northwestern Naturalist, 93 (1). pp. 67-78.

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This study provides the first in depth assessment of Sea Otter haul-out patterns in Elkhorn Slough, California and their relationship to environmental variables. Seasonal and daily water and air temperature fluctuations are a good predictor of Sea Otter haul-out patterns but are affected by the availability of haul-out sites at different tide levels. The cost effectiveness of this choice may be maximal at night because of lack of human disturbance. Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) were observed during 50 bimonthly 24-h periods between August 2007 and July 2009 (n = 1187 h) from a shore-based observation site located above a non-territorial male resting area on the north side of Moss Landing Harbor. We counted the number of Sea Otters in the area (both in the water and on land) at 30-min intervals. We also recorded tide height, and air and water temperature. Thirty-minute counts averaged 42 Sea Otters using the area (land and water) during the day and 66 at night. The average number of Sea Otters hauled out in the study area during the same haul-out event was 22, and the maximum number was 93. Sea Otters were observed hauled out on 70% of the days surveyed, and the proportion of Sea Otters hauled out was significantly higher at night. Higher numbers of Sea Otters on land was significantly correlated with lower air and water temperature, and with mid-range tide-heights. We speculate that haul-out behavior could play an important role in energy conservation; however, human-related traffic patterns in the area may negatively affect this energy conservation strategy.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology
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